Travel One, Inc.: Where the Neuman Brothers See Travel Going

Bill and Steve Neuman have skills that complement each other well to run a large agency, and as Travel One prepares to 
celebrate its 50-year anniversary in 2020, the brothers see a bright future ahead. // Photography: Jim Zons

Travel One, Inc. in Minneapolis this year is seeing an influx of Millennial customers who are interested in doing things like biking and hiking; in fact, one young couple just requested a trip to the Bolivian salt flats and to then go hiking in the Andes.

It’s just this type of request for really “off-the-grid” locations that are keeping the co-owners of Travel One, Bill and Steve Neuman, excited about the travel business.

“We’re seeing more and more opportunities to plan complex, out-of-the ordinary trips for people who have already been to the more familiar destinations, or who are looking for something unique, something individual, maybe something their friends haven’t experienced,” says Bill Neuman.

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Together, the two run a travel agency located in a tall office tower that brings in more than $100 million in sales revenue a year; 82 percent of that is corporate and 18 percent is leisure. As president and vice president, respectively, Bill and Steve oversee 42 advisors (36 are full-time, six are independent contractors). All of the agency’s eight luxury travel advisors are in-house. Travel One also partners with six strong IC producers, says Bill Neuman. “We’ve got specialists in Europe, in Asia and in specific countries, such as Italy and Mexico.”

Selling travel is most definitely in the brothers’ DNA.

What Millennials Want: A young couple recently requested Travel One for a trip to the Bolivian salt flats, shown here, and to then go hiking in the Andes. Below, people are seen hiking the Andes at Huayna Potosi mountain. // Photography: Getty Images / Seckin Ozturk 

Their parents traveled all over the world together early on and were soon bringing their children along to places like Russia and Asia. These days, the Neumans are doing multigenerational travel as a family with their parents, kids and their sister, Sheila, who played an important role at Travel One for many years. And while the Neuman brothers are busy running the business side of the agency, they maintain a close relationship with clients. “We hire expert advisors to manage the travel-planning with our clients, but, at the same time, because we are a family business, clients like working with us because they know they can talk with [either brother] if they need to,” says Bill Neuman.

And just what are they seeing from clients? Bill says that adventure travel continues to be very popular and destinations that were not popular are becoming bigger. “The world is shrinking, and younger people are wanting to go places that are challenging,” he says.

On the flip side, multigenerational travel keeps growing as parents and grandparents continue to plan meaningful trips with the kids. Neuman says the challenge there is planning a vacation that suits the wide span of age groups. It’s likely, however, his team has all the tools and knowledge to do just that, and to plan virtually any type of trip.

That’s because Travel One specializes in corporate and group incentive travel in addition to leisure travel. Because each has a very different audience that requires different types of service and expertise, the agency has dedicated teams serving each group. “Our corporate travel planners, for example, thrive on solving problems on the fly, under pressure, in a fast-paced environment,” says Bill.

“At the other end of the spectrum, our leisure travel advisors love to work closely with their clients to craft exceptional experiences. That’s not something to rush through. In fact, for a lot of people, half of the fun is in the planning,” he adds. 

The corporate / leisure travel mix, which together brings in $102 million a year in sales volume, infuses an interesting dynamic to the agency. “Many of our luxury travel clients have corporate travel accounts with us, and many are referred to us from existing clients and friends,” says Neuman.

Regardless of the client, they all have high expectations. 

“We know how valuable their time is. So, when they do get a chance to take some time off with their families, they expect it to be perfect. We’re really honored that they trust us to make that happen,” says Bill.

Photography: Getty Images / Subbotsky

Travel One advisors will also go out of their way to make a challenging situation easier.

“One of our travel advisors was working with a man with spina bifida who wanted to travel through Amsterdam and Norway,” says Bill Neuman. “We found that other agencies wouldn’t work with him or were charging him an exorbitant amount of money. Our advisor is very caring, very hands-on and really wanted him to have this experience. We researched a lot of options for him and found a cruise that helped him travel and tour like everyone else.”

The grown children of longtime clients are now working with Travel One. This clientele first instinctively tried to plan vacations for themselves online, but Neuman is now seeing them turn to the agency for better value and for pre-vetted destinations. 

For example, a honeymoon couple was recently referred to a Travel One advisor by neighbors. During the course of their discussions, the couple found a price online for a flight that was less expensive than what the advisor had recommended.  

“After looking at the pricing and the flight, our advisor let them know that the cheaper flight had an overnight layover and would have taken them 20 hours to get to their destination,” says Neuman. “They had already done a lot of online research and knew what they wanted, so they decided to hand the reins over to us. They were tired of the planning and trusted us to do it for them.” The end result? The couple had an amazingly planned honeymoon in Europe. 

Focus on Experiences

Bill Neuman reports that he is definitely seeing the current trend of consumers relishing experiences more than possessions, and that’s how they measure their luxury trips. The agency realizes, however, that for each client, the definition of luxury differs.

“For some, it might be discovering a hidden cove on the Amalfi coast; for others, a private truffle hunt followed by a farmhouse dinner, or a guided market tour — or maybe something more high-adrenaline, like whitewater kayaking,” he notes, adding that the last-minute details in this type of trip are of the utmost importance. 

To execute unique experiences on the ground, Travel One uses Virtuoso’s network of ground operators throughout the world; but Neuman says his advisors also have incredible travel experience that adds to their knowledge. 

The agency’s move toward luxury leisure sales started years ago when it hired new advisors who really knew their stuff.

“It’s all about the right people. These were outstanding, high-end leisure advisors and we started to gain confidence that not only would we do it right, but that we could differentiate ourselves and make a name for ourselves selling high-end leisure,” says Neuman. “The next big thing that happened is we hired a manager to run things and she had experience with Virtuoso.”

It’s been 10 years since Travel One made the switch to the luxury network and Neuman is proud to say the agency for the past three years has been invited to the Chairman’s events as a reward for their productivity. “Once I started to learn the value and the benefits of Virtuoso, we’ve been growing that part of our business ever since,” says Neuman.

Travel One Staff: Seated left is Pam Gilson, department manager; seated right is Lora Nielsen. Standing, from left, are Heidi Beyer, Martha Aas, Pamela Martin and Michelle Gagne. Not pictured: Lucy Nelson and Sherry Brown. Photography: Jim Zons

Two of Travel One’s advisors have just completed specialist training for Virtuoso’s new Wanderlist program, which provides clients with a planning process to create a customized travel wish list. They rate their interests, travel experiences and dream destinations in an online tool, then receive access to a personalized travel portal that provides intel such as articles, videos, books and even music playlists tailored to their interests. The Wanderlist advisor reviews the results of the data collected by the online tool and designs a plan (called a portfolio) to map out future travels. Details such as which seasons are best for traveling to specific destinations are included, as are dates when it’s most economical to travel. The advisor presents a printed copy of the portfolio to the client, which also lives online, and is adjusted as the client’s life needs are altered.

Travel One is starting to run with the program. Bill Neuman likes it because he says people enjoy living in a state of anticipation about their next trip. Even better, advisors have the knowledge that some desired destinations on their clients’ lists could be combined in to one trip. “They can say, ‘Well, if you truly want to go here and here, maybe you can combine the two.’ It brings in that advisor knowledge and expertise that somebody may not think of, so, on a lot of levels, it makes a lot of sense.”

He’s keen on bringing new advisors into the business and typically starts someone new out by having them book concierge-style services to support the agency’s existing advisors. This could include calling a hotel to let management know a client is going to be arriving and to ensure they will be greeted with Virtuoso amenities, for example. As the new employee learns the business, they’re gradually moved in to the advisor role. The agency typically looks for candidates who are well-connected and well-traveled and then teaches them the business. Alternately, a corporate travel advisor who wants to switch things up will be taught how to sell luxury leisure.

“We’re focused on developing talent,” says Neuman. “To keep growing and to maintain our level of service, we need young people getting into the business. It’s a great career for caring, service-oriented people who love travel, and a lot of them don’t even know being a travel advisor is an option.”

Puglia, Italy is where Bill Neuman  wanted all his clients to go after he visited the region last year. Seen here is the town of Gravina in the region. Photography: Getty Images / StevanZZ

While Travel One’s corporate business fuels much of its leisure sales, the agency has many local clients, as well, particularly since it has been open for 50 years.

“Word-of-mouth is, by far, our biggest advertising vehicle,” says Neuman, who is part of a local Young President’s Organization, which has been a great source of business and learning, for him. “Then, through our religious communities and sports and kids, you meet a lot of people and you build a network,” he adds.

The customer has changed over the years. While first-time travelers are still likely to go to more traditional destinations, more seasoned travelers are seeking non-traditional locations. For example, those who want to go to Italy, have already been to Rome and Venice and Florence and they’re now looking for a different angle on the country. 

“The biggest thing that we have tracked is that they’re looking for a unique experience. Our team can plan Rome, Venice and Florence, but it’s more fun for them to plan something new.”

He personally visited the Puglia region of Italy after the Virtuoso Chairman’s event in Venice last year. “It was beautiful and incredible, like something in a movie. After that trip, I wanted all of our customers to go there,” he says.

His advisors are urged to travel. “We encourage and provide compensation for our luxury travel advisors to see the world firsthand and to experience different parts of the world. It’s not just essential to our business, it’s important personally,” says Bill Neuman. “As our luxury travel manager Pam says, ‘Life isn’t meant to be lived in one place. Travel as long and as far as you can!’”

Tyn Church in the Old Town of Prague, Czech Republic. Bill Neuman’s earliest family trip was to Eastern Europe right after the Berlin Wall came down. // Photography: Getty Images / Yasonya

Traveling Roots

The Neuman brothers definitely have the travel business in their blood. Travel One was launched nearly 50 years ago by Allen Wolf and their father, Bob Neuman, joined shortly thereafter. Together, the two ran the business as partners for years. When Wolf wanted to step away from management, Bill Neuman was brought in to head up sales and learn the business. He left a job selling employer-sponsored health plans. Although he admits selling travel is much more fun, what he liked about insurance is that it’s a complicated sale. “You had to explain a lot, and companies had a lot of questions and I felt like we could differentiate ourselves by being a knowledgeable, trusted sales people,” he says. When he was transferred from Massachusetts to the Twin Cities office, it was a homecoming for him; he’d been raised outside of Minneapolis. He called his father and the conversation about his joining Travel One began.

Neuman still draws on his previous career. Travel can also be a complicated sale, particularly corporate travel, which includes a variety of technology and service offerings. He was also able to bring a potential book of business with him, and over the next three to five years, Travel One won a lot of those customers Neuman had worked with in insurance.

The agency had just 20 employees then and Neuman learned through the mentorship of Allen Wolf. When Wolf, who still works as an independent contractor of Travel One, wanted to exit management five years later, Neuman was named president of the agency.

Brother Steve came onboard five years after Bill as an account manager and today oversees much of the agency’s technology, such as its website and online and mobile booking tools, which recently underwent a major upgrade.

“I worked for years with my grandfather as a manufacturer’s sales rep,” says Steve Neuman. “My dream was to become a professional hockey player but that just didn’t work out. Bill and I coached youth hockey for many years, and we loved the team-building aspect. That’s what’s so rewarding about working together now. We both took different paths earlier in our career, but Dad came to us and asked us to join the family business. It’s an ever-changing industry and we saw it as an incredible opportunity to make a difference. We don’t just sell services — we are a trusted travel partner creating special memories in our clients’ lives.”

A trip to Bangkok years ago had given Bill Neuman the travel bug and he is excited that this year’s Virtuoso Chairman’s Event will be held in Thailand’s capital, giving him a chance to see the destination again. Shown here is the Wat Arun Temple in Bangkok. Photo by Getty Images / saiko3p

50 in 2020

The Neuman brothers have skills that complement each other well to run a large agency; however, they have similar childhood memories of family vacations that keep fueling their passion for travel.

Bill Neuman recalls the earliest family trip, which was to Eastern Europe — Poland, Prague and Germany — right after the Berlin Wall came down. “It was fascinating to be there and to see how their economy was. We would go into a restaurant in Poland and there would literally be five things on the menu and the waiter would come out and say, ‘We’re out of one, three and five.’” Because the Neumans had prepaid their meals and because local currency was now worth so little, they couldn’t manage to eat all of the food they’d already paid for in U.S. dollars.

Other family vacations included Vail, CO, because his mother loved to ski, and Palm Springs, CA, because his father didn’t love to ski. A trip to Bangkok gets credit for officially giving Bill Neuman the travel bug.

Coming up next for him is a trip with his wife and three children to Israel and Jordan in December and he’s excited that the Virtuoso Chairman’s event is in Bangkok this year, so he’ll get to experience that destination again after all these years.

With a 50-year anniversary coming up in 2020 for Travel One, the Neuman brothers see a bright future for the next half-century. “The agency is well-positioned for growth, from absolutely top-notch talent, to our integrated service offerings, to our upgraded operations, to our relationship with Virtuoso,” says Bill Neuman. Short-term goals include getting more of the agency’s corporate clients to partake in their leisure services. “And we’d like to bring in more people who have never used a travel agent before. So, many have no idea what we can offer or how much easier and more fun their trips can be when we help them out,” he notes.

That experience — not stuff — is the new luxury, is what keeps the Neumans jazzed about the future. “And that goes across a wide range of price points, not just the most exclusive and uber-expensive,” says Bill Neuman. “We’re excited that we have the opportunity to help people have experiences that they’ll treasure for a lifetime. And once they’ve had those experiences, they’ll want more.”

Travel One, Inc.

Headquarters: Minneapolis, MN
Founded: 1970 
President and Owner: Bill Neuman 
VP and Owner: Steve Neuman 
Number of advisors: 36 full-time advisors; six independent contractors
Annual sales volume: $102 million
Business Mix: Business travel: 82 percent; leisure travel: 18 percent
Affiliations: Virtuoso and BCD Affiliate Program
Advisory board positions: Delta Air Lines, Global Sales Support, BCD Affiliate Program, TravelPort Advisory Board
Agency website: www.traveloneinc.com

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